(CBS) Mood may not be the only thing that gets a boost from antidepressants. New research links the popular drugs to increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
In a first-of-its-kind study that involved more than 500 middle-aged male twins, researchers found that those who took antidepressants of any kind were more likely to have a thickening of the inner linings of arteries in the neck. Greater "intima-media thickness" is associated with heart attack and stroke, according to a written statement issued by the American College of Cardiology.
Dr. Shah said the connection between heart health and antidepressants is poorly understood, adding that the medications may increase levels of chemical messengers like serotonin and norepineprine - which, in turn, might cause blood vessels to constrict or tighten, boosting blood pressure, a risk factor for atherosclerosis.
At a press conference held after results of the study were announced, Dr. Shah said antidepressant use appeared to "age" carotid arteries by the equivalent of about four years, Medpage Today reported.
Dr. Janet Wright, senior vice president for science and quality at the American College of Cardiology, told CBS that she was surprised by the finding but wasn't worried that antidepressant use might be a significant contributor to the nation's heart attack and stroke burden.
What's the take-away message for people taking antidepressants?
"They should know that the association between antidepressants and cardiovascular risk was mild but significant," Dr. Wright said."They should not stop taking their antidepressant but should mention this result to their doctor." In turn, doctors should carefully assess cholesterol levels, blood pressure, lifestyle habits, and other cardiovascular risk factors in patients taking antidepressants, she said.
Just as important, she said, depressed people need to be reminded that regular exercise can help prevent and treat both cardiovascular disease and depression - so that more cases of depression could be controlled through changes in people's habits rather than with medicine.
"If we could use daily aerobic activity through a behavioral change rather than with a drug," she said, "boy, am I ever in favor of that."